Monthly Archives: September 2022

Edgar Allen Poe and the Order of the Third Bird?

No formal documentation thus far surfacing in the W-Cache—or, for that matter, in other repositories—directly links Edgar Allen Poe (1809 – 1849) to the Avis Tertia. However, there have been a number of efforts over the years to suggest that this celebrated (and notoriously macabre) American writer did indeed have connections to associates of the Order working in the antebellum United States (see, for instance, Michael Neet, “‘Quoth the Raven’: Baltimore Birds and the Writing of The Raven,” proceedings of ESTAR(SER), Vol. 11, No. 4 [1967]: 62-83).

Recent correspondence from an ESTAR(SER) affiliate in Paris reopens this question along what is, we believe, a new line of inquiry. The following will orient interested readers:

I was struck this past summer in the course of a beach-read of Edgar Allen Poe’s brutal Berenice (1835) by the unmistakable odor of the Order.  Those familiar with the story will recall that it centers on a young and ill-fated couple, BOTH of whom suffer from what must be understood as a disfiguring hypertrophy of the attentional faculty. Just as the black bird in Poe’s celebrated Raven would seem to smack of a sepulchral and pessimistic “take” on Birdishness, Berenice strongly suggests a stern warning to all those who would cultivate extreme/metempsychotic forms of attention. Was Poe again harping resentfully on the activities of the Avis Tertia on account of the perceived slights documented by Michael Neet in his classic article? It seems likely. I am enclosing, here, a transcription of the key early passage in which the attentional fixations of the two main characters are explicitly invoked:

Among the numerous train of maladies superinduced by that fatal and primary one which effected a revolution of so horrible a kind in the moral and physical being of my cousin may be mentioned as the most distressing and obstinate in its nature a species of epilepsy not unfrequently terminating in trance itself – trance very nearly resembling positive dissolution, and from which her manner of recovery was, in most instances, startlingly abrupt. In the meantime my own disease – for I have been told that I should call it by no other appellation – my own disease, then, grew rapidly upon me, and assumed finally a monomaniac character of a novel and extraordinary form – hourly and momently gaining vigour — and at length obtaining over me the most incomprehensible ascendancy. This monomania, if I must so term it, consisted in a morbid irritability of those properties of the mind in metaphysical science termed the “attentive.” It is more than probable that I am not understood, but I fear, indeed, that it is in no manner possible to convey to the mind of the merely general reader an adequate idea of that nervous intensity of interest with which, in my case, the powers of meditation (not to speak technically) busied and buried themselves in the contemplation of even the most ordinary objects of the universe.

To muse for long unwearied hours, with my attention riveted to some frivolous device on the margin, or in the typography of a book – to become absorbed, for the better part of a summer’s day, in a quaint shadow falling aslant upon the tapestry or upon the floor – to lose myself, for an entire night, in watching the steady flame of a lamp or the embers of a fire – to dream away whole days over the perfume of a flower – to repeat, monotonously, some common word until the sound by dint of frequent repetition, ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind; to lose all sense of motion or physical existence by means of absolute bodily quiescence long and obstinately persevered in: such were a few of the most common and least pernicious vagaries induced by a condition of the mental faculties – not, indeed, altogether unparalleled, but certainly bidding defiance to anything like analysis or explanation. Yet let me not be misapprehended…

Appreciation for this fascinating lead; further work, following up, would be of great interest.